The wobble board is an instrument popularized by the Australian musician and artist Rolf Harris and featured in his best-known song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". A wobble board, like some other musical instruments, can be ornately decorated as its large surface area can act as a canvas without detracting from its musical capability.
The instrument is played by holding the board lengthwise, hands at the sides and flicking the board outward, making the characteristic "whoop-whoop" noise. The angle the board is held at and the way the board is "flicked" can alter the timbre of the wobble board. It is similar to the boards used to imitate the sound of thunder in the theatre of Shakespeare's time.
Official Rolf Harris wobble boards were sold commercially for a time in the 1970s but most are made by the player. Almost any large, springy and flexible sheet of material can be used as an impromptu wobble board, although some materials are markedly better than others. Harris's instrument was originally made from a type of wood composite known as hardboard (Masonite in the United States and Australia). According to an interview he gave to Tony Barrell for The Sunday Times Magazine in 2001, Rolf discovered the musical properties of hardboard by chance, when he was about to paint a portrait of the conjurer Robert Harbin in 1959. Before his subject arrived, Rolf prepared the background, covering a large piece of hardboard with Prussian blue oil paint mixed with turpentine. But the surface refused to dry. "It was all sticky and nasty. He was due to arrive in about half an hour." In desperation, Harris propped the board over a paraffin heater. When he touched it later, it was so hot it burned his finger. "So I propped it between the palms of my hands and shook it to cool it down. And ... I thought, 'What a marvellous sound.'"
Rolf Harris said:
|“||My first Wobble Board was made of 2-foot by 3-foot 1/10 inch thick hardboard, although they can be made slightly smaller. There is a slight indentation in the middle of each of the short side so the hands don't slip when playing. This needs to be as wide as the hand and about ¼ inch deep. It is played, not by gripping the board with the fingers, but by propping it between the palms of the hands and bouncing it, accenting every second rhythm, don't try to play every one. I've found tempered hardboard works best, or MDF board but it must be really thin, or it's too hard to bounce! Good Luck!||”|
A wobble board used by Rolf for more than 40 years is now part of the National Museum of Australia collection.